I met Rachel Lindsey Meyer in the LAX airport on our way to Sydney, Australia back in 2012. She and I became friends and shared an apartment for four months while adapting to life in a foreign country. In the five years that I've known her, Meyer has taken jewelry-making from a hobby to a lucrative online business.
Last week, we spoke about the unexpected success of her side hustle, the challenges of unforeseen legal trouble and exactly the type of grit you need to succeed in business, and in life, as a New Yorker.
OMG: So, tell me about Little Gold Rings, from the beginning.
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: It started in Australia because [fellow roommate and Salted Stones Jewelry owner Emma Duty] had a tackle box with little tools in it and she would collect shells and make jewelry out of them. So one day, she & I were sitting in the living room while she was making something and she had these tiny little pliers and I asked her, “How do you do that? You just take the wire and you make a necklace?” And she showed me, like “Here, take this wire and these pliers and have at it.” So I started making little hearts that looked like shit and using up all her materials. And she was like, “See? It’s not that hard.” And then I kept doing it because it was fun and I was really bad at it and I was trying to get better. So a few months later, I was home in New York over Christmas and was just sitting at my house, making rings because that’s all I could do. At first, it was making a heart and then looking at products on Pinterest and trying to make the same thing. Like a ring that says "love" and thinking, “Okay, I can do that.” And it was so hard. Then I came back to school and I had bought all the tools & the material and I was doing it more. And after a while, I got better at it and my then-roommate suggested I sell my rings and told me about Etsy. I didn’t even know what Etsy was at the time.
OMG: So, what year is this?
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: The spring of 2013, I think. I made an Etsy page with one listing and a couple examples of things I’d made before. People were buying stuff and they began ordering their own names or the name of their friends, like Chad or Chloe. People would tell me exactly what they wanted and I’d make it for them and sell it to them. I sold everything for $8.00 and I offered my customers free shipping, so I ate the $2.00 shipping cost, which meant the profit was not very big, but it was fun. I would pack them in an envelope with tissue paper and I made them really cute with a handwritten card that said “Thank you for your order!” And in the beginning, I would only get maybe one order per week and I would bring them to the post office, wait in line, have them stamped and off they'd go. So the process to do a single order took a whole afternoon and then sometimes I'd miss the post office, it'd be closed and the whole process was very janky and the rings weren’t even that good but they were selling. And girls on campus would buy them for their friends, for each other, for themselves. People would come over our apartment for parties and say, “Oh Rach, you made a ring for somebody! Will you make me one?” And then I guess it really took off when I started to understand how to use Etsy. I made a bunch of different listings that people could search for, anytime someone ordered something new, I made it its own listing. I made an Instagram. And I sold over 200 rings in the first 4 months of setting up my Etsy shop.
And then eventually, the rings started to get better, like I was starting to get better at it and I developed a setup for how I packaged them. I bought things in bulk, because I used to buy like, five envelopes at a time, I ordered business cards, so I just used those instead of a handwritten note. It became more like a little factory.
OMG: You perfected your workflow.
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: Exactly. It’s evolved a lot.
OMG: How many rings do you think it took until you thought they were good?
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: Well, it was more of a hobby for the first two or three years. And then, I would say in 2016 is when I made it into more of a business. I bought littlegoldrings.com, I overhauled all of the pricing and had people pay for their own shipping, Looking back, I’m like, why did people buy those rings? I don’t know why anybody bought anything from me because I didn’t know a damn thing. Like, the packaging and the hand-written notes-- I was selling crafts and now it’s a business... So, one thousand seems like a lot but I probably made one thousand rings before it felt legit. And I didn’t necessarily sell all of them, I gave a lot of them away in the beginning but I did them for fun.
OMG: What’s your favorite design to make? I guess it’s kind of a custom business.
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: I like when people order their own design because it gives me something new to try. Sometimes it takes me two attempts, if I’ve never written those letters in that order, I’ll have to write it on a piece of paper in script so I can see how the letters go together, so I like when people order new things. I mean, it’s great when people order the Taco Bell ring but I get bored of making it.
OMG: How many rings have you made?
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: This year I think it’s a little over 600 orders, which is— people usually order at least two.
OMG: Oh! Really?
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: It’s rare if someone just orders one ring. So, sometimes there will be a week with zero orders, like no one orders anything. But then, for example, last Friday, I got sixteen orders in a single day, which is upwards of forty rings. And I never make them ahead of time because I never know what’s gonna be popular. So, I make them as people order them, which means basically I have two or three days to turn it around and ship them out.
OMG: It sounds like a ton of work.
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: So that’s what’s frustrating, it’s unpredictable. It’s not as though I receive two orders in a day and just sit down and make two rings at a time.
OMG: What are some of the bigger challenges you've faced? Because you do this, everything, on your own.
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: Honestly, the challenge is that it’s unpredictable. It’s being accountable because people paid money, they ordered something and they generally expect it within three days. So it's definitely like being accountable for people who have questions and want answers and they want things on time and sometimes my schedule— I have to build it around the business. So it’s trying to balance everything because I don’t want it to overwhelm my life. Like when I go on vacation, I shut the Etsy page off because I don't need to be worrying about it. It's trying to juggle this being a hobby but sometimes it becomes a business, especially when people complain or write good reviews or tell their friends or you know, the Instagram gets shut down and that makes a difference.
OMG: At its peak, what was your Instagram following?
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: Around 2,000 followers, maybe more. But now that handle, LittleGoldRings, can't be reinstated because the page was promoting the website which got in trouble for copyright infringement.
OMG: And when did this happen?
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: This past spring, maybe May. So I had started making sorority rings and they were blowing up, like I had a listing for every single sorority. Girls loved to get presents if someone joined the sorority and girls would email me like, "Hey can we get 160 of these rings because we all want to be matching?" you know.
OMG: Oh my god!
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: Yeah, it was blowing up. Like, I could’ve probably quit my job if I really wanted to. Basically I was making as much as entry-level people at my company were making, like as a side gig. Little Gold Rings was blowing up and the page was getting so many hits and it was featured on Etsy’s trending page, so it was getting all of this other traffic. Sorority girls would follow the Instagram and tag themselves, just this little niche market and obviously people would buy other stuff but this market was driving it.
OMG: That's amazing.
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: But then I got this email from Affinity Consulting, which is a company that sororities hire to handle their licensing agreements. In order to use their logos or likeness, you have to buy a licensing agreement and sign up for a year-long contract and pay an annual $50 fee and on top of that, you pay 10% of the net profits to the sorority. And you have to send samples to the sorority to make sure it’s not some janky shit that has their name on it, they want to make sure it’s legit and-- this is so dumb but it’s like the cherry on top-- you have to buy rolls of stickers that go on your product that say it’s officially licensed. So there’s a lot of steps that go into this and you have to repeat that entire process for every single sorority that you want to do business with and there’s at least 200 sororities.
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: Yeah, there’s literally hundreds of them. There were ten really popular ones but girls would email me like, “I’m in sorority XYZ" and I’d make them a ring with those Greek letters. After a while, I started getting cease & desist emails and Affinity Consulting would report my page to Etsy and Etsy does not want to be involved, so they would just put my page on hold and say, “Look, we got this fucking email, we don’t want anything to do with it, you figure it out and don’t reinstate your page until you do.” And the first time, I was like, “Haha whatever, reinstate!” <laughs> Like, what are these people gonna do? And that was a horrible, horrible idea because they were like, “We will take you to court and sue you for more than you’re worth.” So then I thought, “Maybe I’ll look into becoming licensed” but who knows how long this sorority thing is gonna last, I couldn’t fathom-- I'm just trying to make a damn living over here, why do you want a 10% profit off my $10 rings? Like, buzz off. I’m not a company that is gonna make them any money, so I decided I was gonna stop making sorority rings. I deleted all of those listings and I just stopped completely. And even though I wasn’t selling them anymore, my Instagram had pictures from ones that I had sold, so they shut my Instagram down. And basically that’s the whole fiasco and then I shut the Etsy page down for a little while because it was so overwhelming and I thought, do I even want to do this anymore?
OMG: Because that’s enough to make anybody want to say, "Fuck this forever", you know?
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: Which like, I kind of was. I asked myself, "Is this worth it?" Yeah, it is. I’m gonna keep doing it until I get in trouble. I can’t wait for Taco Bell to reach out to me and say the same thing, like I’m just waiting for that. But it’s still fun and I think as long as it’s still fun, I’ll keep doing it.
OMG: How long have you lived in New York?
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: Eight years now.
OMG: I feel like there is some tenacity you must have in order to survive there.
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: Yeah, oh you gotta— yes. I always tell people you have to find a fucking side hustle or you’ll never make it. Or you’ll make it and you’ll leave and it’ll all have been for nothing because everything that came in went straight out. That’s how it is in New York, anything that comes in is taken, so you have to figure out a way to make more come in. And whether it’s money or friendships or even the will to live, whatever it is, you have to figure out a way to keep some for yourself because New York just takes it all. Do you know what I mean? It makes sense with money, that's easy. But just like, emotionally, I feel like you have to find a way to do things without knowing you're in New York, without letting New York ruin them. And that sounds so cynical but it's true. I love it here but you have to find a way to do things without letting New York get you down or take the best of it. You have to find some kind of routine thing that you do by yourself and for yourself, every single day, no matter what. You have to find that one thing that you do, not because it’s trendy or because you feel like you have to or because your friend is doing it; something that you choose to do on your own, completely for you that is separate from your New York life, if that makes sense.
OMG: Yes, it does.
Rachel Lindsey Meyer: So I feel like Little Gold Rings, that’s my thing. That’s something I do because I enjoy it and it happens to be a great little side hustle-- and yes it’s time-consuming and I have mini breakdowns where I get really stressed out… but it's a thing that keeps me accountable and it can be as big or as little as I want.